Thursday, November 22, 2007

Going Russian

I just made a quick run, during my lunch break, to the local H&M store. My mission : buy two russian-style fur hats for the INSEAD theme-party this Friday, i.e. “Russian Nights”. I found what I was looking for : two huge fury things, earflaps and all, ugly as hell.
On I went to the cashdesk. Where the sales assistant looked a bit strange at me. Because, let’s face it, nobody wears those things in real life – at least not in Belgium.
And apparently, he could not resist the urge to make some “funny” remarks.

He: “ ooh, preparing for winter, right? (smirk-smirk)”
Me: -smile- “Hmmhmm”
He: “Well, those will certainly keep you warm!”
(looks over my shoulder from the waiting people behind me)
Me : (at this point doubting if I should tell about the theme party, but that would only sound as a stupid excuse for buying silly hats, and he wouldn’t believe me anyway). So instead “ Yes, they certainly will”
He : “you know they also have them for kids?”
Me: (OK, what? So now I look like the mom-type??). “Oh, really?”

At that point, he finally had my change, and the hats were put in a bag. Pffew!
So now I know why they insist on dressing up for parties at INSEAD. Getting the right outfit (which can go from a “doubtful” nurse-outfit, to an African rasta-wig) is just a preparatory programme for one of the communication/behavioural/organisational psychology-electives in P3/P4/P5!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A public secret

I’m the subject of a public secret, how exciting is that?!
Here’s the story in a nutshell : my manager still hasn’t communicated that I’ll be leaving (in like..3 weeks), and doesn’t want people to know. So I don’t tell. But actually, (almost) everybody knows.
a) Our company is not a planet in another galaxy. It’s on Earth, it’s in Belgium, and Belgium is a very small country. For instance : a guy from marketing plays soccer in the same team as my brother-in-law. Our business analyst is the wife of one of P’s colleagues, etc…
b) My manager himself told it “confidentially” (ahum) to some people.
c) Our employers our 90 % women. Do I need to explain this any further? No, don’t think so.

So on an almost daily basis, people pop into my office saying “Hey, what have I heard??”
And I’m going “I don’t know…What *have* you heard?” Just to find out that one more heard it through a very active grapevine.
All this leads to very uncomfortable situations.
They know, I know, all the others know, but they don’t know all the others know. And sooner or later they will think I told all the others, which isn’t true. Get it?
However: until my boss decides to send the official announcement, there really isn’t any other option for me but to sit and watch the news go round. And to write about it on my blog :-) !

Monday, November 19, 2007

What is an MBA? What is INSEAD? Where is Fontainebleau?

Yess!!! As from January, I’ll be surrounded by people who know the answer to all these questions! And what a relief this will be!
I’m getting so tired of explaining all this over and over and over again.
Also because there’s no “right way” to explain it.
You can go for the “modest version”, and say that INSEAD is a business school in France, near Paris, and that’s it. But then the questions/remarks already start:

“What’s a business school / MBA?” (
“INSEAD? What’s that?” ( or )
“Why do it France? You have MBA’s in Belgium!”
“Why stop working for one year?! There are MBA’s you can do in evening school!”
“What does P’s employer say about this?” (euhm, well, they totally support him)
“But if you stop working as well, you don’t have an income?!” (yes, correct. We’ll live on bread and water for 6 months. Sponsoring is welcome :-)

All the above leaves you no other option but to switch to the “very hard to get in, one of the leading b-schools in the world – version”. And than you sound like you’re bragging and showing off! Which was really not your intention – you just wanted people to understand!

It keeps amazing me how little is known about MBA’s in general. People stare at you, completely baffled, when you say your partner stops working for one year “as an investment in the future” …And by this I’m really not looking down on all the people who have asked me one of the above questions or made similar remarks! I had to do some research myself when P announced for the first time he wanted to do an MBA….
This posting is simply a cry for help to all the PR/Communication people working for business schools. (Because I’m through with fulfilling this role for INSEAD, unless they start paying me)
- get the title “protected” in some way (because now you can almost get an MBA on every street corner)
- explain to the world outside “high-potential-land” what an MBA is, and why people do it in general. (I mean nobody still wonders what a university is, right? Why can’t the same be true for MBA’s?)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's the final countdown !

Tomorrow my last month at work starts. 4 weeks to go…and then I’m off to France for 6 months!!
This is making me feel, in no particular order : exhilarated, relieved, enthusiastic, stressed out, anxious, panicky, over the moon, doubtful, convinced, scared, proud, excited. That’s about it, I guess.

Most of the time, I actually don’t think about it. I continue working and leading my every day life. And then out of the blue, something happens, some thought pops up in my mind, making me feel one of the above mentioned moods. Like driving home at night, and all of a sudden realizing that within a few weeks this car will be G-O-N-E. Or like reading a mail about a jobfair in March, and starting to plan it, only to come to a full stop because I won’t even be here. Or like feeling so frustrated again over the organization of our department, but then starting to smile and be able to think “f*** it” :-)

All in all, I’m happy that the waiting is (almost) over. I’m convinced I made the right choice, and I look forward to being with P in France. I’m determined to fully enjoy this “breathing period” I’ve allowed myself, for the first time since graduating. It’s time to find out what I want to do with my life ( or at least have a clue), to think things through, and to finally take the art-courses I’ve been planning since forever :-) . (This reminds me: I have to get my registration at La Sorbonne sorted out – urgently!).

So I guess the occasional panic/doubt-attacks are just part of the deal.And as long as P can find the patience to deal with them, all is ok!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I miss the Thalys

No, not as in “I’ve missed my train to France.”
But as in “I miss the 1.20 hour that I can totally relax, read and look forward to a long weekend!”
It’s Wednesday evening, and every two weeks, this means packing my bags to go to Fonty the next day, right after work. Sadly not this week. There’s the huge yearly company party on Friday evening to compensate things a bit (and this luckily does NOT include looking for an African/Russian/hospital/Tarantino/….outfit :-), but still….

Since I've made the “environmental” decision to take the train instead of my car to travel to France, I took quite a likening for public transport. (ok, I admit : it was an emotional, purely self-indulging decision to spend loads of money on the Thalys, instead of driving for 0 Eur with my company car, nothing to do with any “green” motives – see posting “The horrible ride home”). But public transport made me a happier person.
Here’s how it goes.
A taxi picks me up at work around 5.00 PM. And wow….this already makes me feel like I’ve stepped right into a scene of Sex and the City! Carrie taking a cab to see her lover in Paris…We ignore red lights twice, and I consider this as self-sacrifying acts of my driver, who will do anything to get me on time in the station. The scene reaches perfection when Sinatra sings “We’ll be together again” on the car radio.
I only have to wait a few minutes for the Thalys to come rolling into the station around 17.25 PM, and there I go, at 17.40, all set for a bit of me-time. My bag hides a candy bar, a Coke, a book, and a few magazines. All I need.
The relaxing stops cruelly around 19.00 PM, because then the train almost reaches Paris. And this means : already get to the train doors, ready to jump out. Because I have exactly 10 minutes to 1)stand in line to buy a ticket, 2)race to the other end of a very big train station, 3) knock over a few stubborn Frenchmen who are still not aware of the fact that the left side of an escalator is made for people who are in a hurry, 4) reach the right platform just in time to see the RER to Melun arriving, 5) jump on it, without verifying if it’s the right one, 6) doubt if I jumped on the right one until I see the first stop, which convinces me I’m traveling in the right direction.
After this horrible race against the clock, I can happily relax again for 45 minutes. I spend this time reading (again), and feeling proud of myself for traveling independently through Paris and its’ “banlieux”. Big City Girl on the move!
Around 20.10 PM the train rolls into Melun station, where P stands waiting for me. And in a second I go from “independent big city girl” to “please take me into your arms, onto your horse, and drive me to your castle” :-)

So public transport has won me over.
Good thing.
Because as from January, I won’t even have a car anymore, ha!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Coming & going

It’s another homecoming on a Sunday evening after a long weekend with P in France. And I don’t even know why I bother to open my blog, because quite frankly: I think I’m too tired to write anything sensible right now. Anyway, I feel a slight obligation to at least give it a try :-) . So here’s a quick overview of the past three days!

After arriving on Thursday evening, we discovered one of the “INSEAD” restaurants in Fontainebleau “Pizza Pazza”(INSEAD restaurant meaning : cheap but OK food, and discount for students + partners). Actually, now that I’ve mentioned them on my blog, I feel I’ve deserved another 10% discount.
Friday I started the day quite ‘academically”, going to the library with P (see former posting) – only to become a true housewife in the afternoon (shopping, cleaning, ironing and actually even enjoying it. Please forget those last words right after reading them).
P had classes until 19.00PM, and after that I was very pleased to be part of “champagne-Friday” for once: a little tradition P and his work group developed during P1, sharing a bottle of bubbles after each week they survive. That night, the champagne served more than one purpose : it was Diwali, or the Indian New Year, and they all got their P1 exam-grades! (I will not begin to write about how immensely proud I am of P – remember my intention : give a quick overview)
We had actually planned to go to the African Party, but we ended up cocooning in our Barbizon place. Feeling tired, and afraid that we caught some kind of French flu.
The virus continued to bug us on Saturday, so we ended up staying home and just relaxing. In the evening, fellow INSEAD-Belgians came along to have dinner with us (thank god for the great “traiteur” in Barbizon) – we had a really nice time, just talking, getting to know each other better, and I felt very much “at home”.
Sunday was the birthday of RL, P’s mom, and she was actually on a city trip in Paris. We arranged to meet each other at the Musée du Luxembourg, to go to the Arcimboldo-exhibit. The exhibit itself was great, if not overcrowded…After that we had a superb lunch in the Café Marly at the Louvre, a place that was on my wish list for quite some time! Their moelleux (kind of a half melting, warm chocolate cake) was the ultimate comfort food I needed, because right after that P jumped on the metro, on his way to Fonty again, and we made our way to the Gare du Nord to catch the Thalys to Brussels.

Now I’m back home, and so far Phoebe, our hamster, is the only one who is very pleased with that! I am feeling geographically disoriented, emotionally mixed up, very tired and afraid this headache won’t pass with just one painkiller.
One thing left to do : call P, feel a bit better consequently, and then of to bed!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Doriot Library

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in a university-type library. When I was doing my masters in Modern History, the library (and the “archives”) became my second habitat. No group work for History students. No, it was all about spending solitary hours buried into old-smelling books (that no living soul had opened after World War II), and into boxes filled with, in my case, letters written by 18th century Frenchmen.
Being in the library meant concentrating 100%. Not difficult, since there was nothing else to do, and one word to some fellow student already provoked angry looks from the librarian. It was as if everyday life seized to exist. Only the yearly Christmas market, held right in front of the library, managed to penetrate its walls. So while you were trying to make your way through the umpteenth bibliography, Rudolf the rednosed reindeer would be happily trudging beside you.

Anyway, here I am, after all those years, sitting in an academic library again. The Insead library, that is, or “Doriot Library”, where P and his fellow students camped out during the P1 exams. Somehow this library is very different from my old university library, which was anything but modern, and where tyrannical librarians kept peace and order.
But the atmosphere is the same. All that matters is the book in front of you. I totally forgot how relaxing this can be, to be cut off from any sound or other activity. To just sit, concentrate and read.

So now I know why they all like the library so much, and why they spent hours and hours in it. It’s the “INSEAD-bubble” in it’s most concentrated form :-)

Friday, November 2, 2007

P in B !

This coming weekend has a few “first times” in for me:
- P is coming back to Brussels for the weekend, the first time “back home”, after leaving more than 2 months ago
- It’s the first time since the ending of my 3week-holiday in Barbizon, that we’ll be seeing that much of eachother. I mean : I only saw P last weekend (not complaining!) The last few months, I always had to wait three weeks in between visits; so I just can’t believe he’ll be standing on my doorstep just a few hours from now!
I’ll try to keep my cool, I’ll try not to schedule and plan every single hour of the coming days, and I promise I’ll try not to overreact if everything doesn’t go picture-perfect. And I’ll try not to think non-stop of the “moment of departure” on Sunday.
As they say at INSEAD about P2, I say the same thing about this “weekend like old times with P in Brussels” : “Bring it on!!!!”.

The MBA : ritual or running-away?

Last week, P gave me this essay to read “Behind the mask : the MBA”, by Gianpiero Petriglieri and Jack Denkfeld Wood. The essay is basically about the psychology of high potentials attending an MBA, and about the “personal development elective” students can follow at IMD ( a business school in Switzerland).

Some unsettling insights reveiled themselves to me while reading the 24 pages.
Of course we all know the reasons why someone chooses to do an MBA (or so we think) : to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to climb even faster to a certain career goal. Next to this, however, there appear to be a whole set of so called “unconsciousness purposes” for applying, and according to the essay ,these purposes are actually the determining ones! I could summarize these purposes as “escapes”, whether it be from an unsatisfying or too demanding job, from parents’ expectations, from routine of every day life, or from a stagnant relationship (yes, that one also appears to be a motive), etc.
So I definitely need to discuss this one with P : what is his “hidden agenda” for the MBA??

The second insight I acquired, is that of the high potential themselves. The essay states that a lot of them appear (from the outside) to “have it all together”. And I must confirm this : to me, most of them indeed appear to be the brightest, happiest, smartest, most self confident, most stress resistant etc people I’ve met. I see them at INSEAD, but I also see them here, at work. They are always full of energy, driven, never tired, never appear to have a bad day, they work 60 hours a week, and besides that manage a family with 2 kids. I can only stare in wonder….(as I see myself as someone who most of the time doesn’t have it all together!).
According to the authors however, this image is a flawed one, hiding deeper insecurities that come with “living up to expectations”. I understand that high potentials are confronted with the same questions as every single one of us (basically “why am I here, on planet earth?”); but they still haven’t convinced me that the image of the so called “ golden boys” (and girls) is just a superficial one… I’ve seen too convincing examples of the opposite, and although I have to admit (already at the “Open Day” before the start of the academic year), that the other MBA-participants were “normal people” like me, I still, somehow, manage to feel inferior to them. (especially when they start talking about their finance or accounting or stats classes, and I even don’t know if they’re still talking English or some other exotic language).

The third and last idea I retain from this essay, is “the MBA as a ritual”. INSEAD’s slogan already states that it’s a year that will change you and your life forever . And the essay elaborates on this, seeing the MBA student as a “modern hero”, who goes on a difficult journey, to come back, fulfilled, transformed and (hopefully) matured.
I’m still struggling with that one as well, more from a personal point of view. When I first read everything there was to be found on the INSEAD website, the part about how “this will change your life forever” made me swallow a few times. I was (and still am) a bit afraid what the effects of INSEAD will be on P, and consequently on our live together. “Change” is not my favourite word in the dictionary, but it is becoming the keyword of this year…and the ones to come!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The INSEAD theme song

When you scroll down a bit, you'll find a new widget I've inserted. It's *the* most played song on INSEAD parties. And I think there's more than one reason for this.

Took a ride to the end of the lane, Where no one ever goes.
'cause forest roads in Fonty simply make you feel that way

Relax, take it easy, For there is nothing that we can('t) do.
Of course, because "we" got in at a top rated business school, and we're ready to conquer the world after this (and they have to let us graduate, considering the amount we paid, right ? ;-)

It’s as if I’m scared. It’s as if I’m terrified. It’s as if I'm scared. It’s as if I’m playing with fire.
Euh, yes, that as well. Because left the job, left the house, left the family and loved ones, left the monthly income and gave all the saving money to INSEAD.

But the last thing on my mind is to leave you. I believe that we’re in this together.
This is a personal one for me :-)